The following is an excerpt from Acyutānanda dāsa Brahmacārī’s interview with Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Mahārāja, published in Rays of The Harmonist, Kārttika 2007 (Originally published in Back to Godhead, Issue No. 33, 1970)
Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhāra Gosvāmī Mahārāja sat on the roof of his quarters in Navadvīpa. The now very old sādhu was in a deeply contemplative mood, and to approach him in this state disturbed me. He motioned that I should sit in front of him, so I timidly went and sat down on a grass mat. There was no one to be seen anywhere. “There are many things to see from up here by which we can remember Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu,” His Holiness said, “ this Ganges, this forest, the temples, His favourite tree – banana. What do you want?”
“Can you explain, if the Name is a spiritual thing, how are we all chanting it?” I asked, feeling very foolish. After some silence he softly said, “Gaura-haribol, gaura-haribol,” and then began:
It cannot be uttered by a material tongue, nor can a material ear hear the Name. He is adhokṣaja, (beyond experimental knowledge), having reserved the right not to be exposed to organic senses. All the experience, knowledge, and memories that we have are gleaned with the help of mundane senses. Our tongue is comprised mostly of earth and water elements; the nerve endings extending to all parts of the body carry charges of electricity, also a material element. If an object is too far away, it is not touchable, seeable, tastable, and so forth. If an object is too close, it is also imperceptible; we can’t see our own tilaka mark or eye make-up.
When the senses are extended by microscopes and telescopes, these instruments have more range, but are still limited to the material sphere. The telescope cannot penetrate the outermost covering of the universe. The microscope lens is composed of atoms and therefore cannot see the atom or anything smaller than the atom. Similarly, the system of mental speculation is also inefficient when it comes to perceiving the spiritual element. Mind is a material element whose density is very slight. Higher abstractions are no more spiritual than hard rocks. There is a common belief that by extending the potency of the mind we can conceive of the infinite, but this process is defective. If the infinite can be confined in a limited mind, then it is not infinite. I do not even know how many hairs are on my own head. Mental speculators grind their brains over the abstract aphorisms of Zen and the Upaniṣads and think that by their own power they can achieve something like infinity. The result is just mental gratification. The mind explodes and dies of exhaustion. And the reaction is deplorable – total forgetfulness of the self and the infinite.
There are channels by which the infinite descends. He is all power, glory, beauty, knowledge, wealth, and renunciation. He is dominant, all-extending, free, and autocratic. The infinite cannot be contained in a limited sphere but if He is really infinite then He has the power of making Himself known in all His fullness to the finite mind. When, out of His own prerogative, He takes the initiative and reveals Himself to the devotee, there is actual perception of Godhead, self-realization, transcendental revelation. By the channel of transcendental sound He comes by vibrating the spiritual tongue of the pure devotees who are representing Him to the world. The spiritual element vibrates the spiritual tongues of the bona fide guru’s audience, which have hitherto never been vibrated.
Sad-gurudeva utters “Hare Kṛṣṇa”. Our material ears hear some sound that resembles the transcendental name of Kṛṣṇa. Our eardrum moves the liquid of the inner ear, half water and half air, which vibrates the ethereal element and touches our mind. At this point, soul is still untouched, and there has been no genuine spiritual experience. By hearing with the mind’s impressions, we enjoy the sound of the cymbals, the beat of the chant, the pleasant company and effect of listening and hearing. But it does not stop here. Piercing the mind, the original sound uttered by guru moves our intellect, and we consider the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. For millions of years, sages chanted this on the banks of many holy rivers. Everywhere, a flood of ideas appears about the possible effects of the mantra. This, while being quite blissful, is not spiritual revelation in the true sense. Beyond the intelligence is the spiritual element – soul, myself. That sound, having cut through all my senses including the mind and intellect, now vibrates the finest sentiments of my own real existence. This is the perception of the holy name on the spiritual plane with my spiritual ear. Then the soul, being inspired, recapitulates, sending the vibration back into the intelligence, mind, and so forth, out to my external tongue and we say, “Hare Kṛṣṇa.” That “Hare Kṛṣṇa” is He. And we dance in ecstasy.
“Sounds, sounds, sounds,” His Holiness repeated slowly.
Sounds – catch hold of the sounds. Seize the sound waves travelling within the ether, and your happiness is assured in spiritual life. One ṛṣi has explained in his sūtra that massive epidemics are due to the ether being contaminated by impure sound. When the lawyers and pleaders in court begin to tell lies in the name of justice, these sound vibrations contaminate the ether and in turn contaminate the air and water which people breathe and drink, and an epidemic is the result.
When four-headed Brahmā creates the universe, the seed ingredient is sound – oṁ. And from that oṁ the gāyatrī-mantra is born. In this sound, the fourteen planetary galaxies sprout like whorls of spiralling stars and planets, with the sun situated in the very centre of the universe. Each planetary system is composed of a different sound uttered by Lord Brahmā. Each galaxy provides the multitudes of jīvas with their particular spheres of karma (action), dharma (religious functions), artha (economic development), kāma (sensual enjoyment and suffering), and mokṣa (emancipation from material existence). It is the function of Brahmā to provide these different galaxies and planets according to the sinful and meritorious deeds of the innumerable living entities.
Lord Brahmā utters a different sound for each planetary system and his engineer, Śrī Viśvakarma, creates the planets according to those sounds. The subtle elements and gross elements are distributed in this way. In our planet, the predominating elements are earth and water. In other worlds, only water is found. On the sun, fire is the prominent element. If a spiritual individual, under the effects of illusion, or māyā, wishes to end his gross existence, he may enter a planet of air, ether, mind, or intelligence and live as a ghost.
The individual jīva is also endowed with a particle of creative power. And the ordinary individual as well creates his tiny sphere of influence by sound. Some jīvas’ spheres of influence are no bigger than their own craniums, and some jīvas have influence over a community, a nation, or even a whole planet. The beauty and harmony of their particular spheres of influence depends on the quality of sound they produce.
When one nation tries to conquer another nation, the first points to capture are the radio stations, the newspapers, the journals – the lines of communication. By sending out its manifesto by sound, the government can remove the former leaders from their posts and capture the country. Then, also by sound, the new government becomes established. If there should be any defect in that sound, then the whole thing is ruined. That is why there is so much alteration in the world situation. The sound of all these jīvas is – to quote the Bible – “Babel”. Nonsensical sounds are entering and contaminating the ether, the air, the water, and the very molecular structure of each and every person, place, and thing.
A person’s mind is composed of two functions, technically termed saṅkalpa and vikalpa. Saṅkalpa means the mind’s desire to join thoughts into concepts, theories, and tableaus of theories. Vikalpa is the mind’s function of rejecting thoughts; of simplifying and limiting experiences, which are gathered through the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Both functions are controlled by sound.
Here is an experiment:
Close your eyes. When I repeat a number, you will see it flash before your mind like it flashes on to a cash register.
One, three, seven, four.
The processes of saṅkalpa and vikalpa respectively, make the thoughts come and go. This is a very simple form of the mind’s process.
On a more complicated scale, there is the very risky business of intentionally invading the sound waves with defective sound. The lines of communication are filled with impure sound from the earliest of schoolbooks to the most advanced so-called philosophy. The White House filibusters* are another excellent example of intentional pollution of sound channels. If we were to infuse spiritual sound into the ether – saturate the ether with the transcendental sound vibration of “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare, Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare” – the mantra would purify, enlighten, and saturate every being with its potencies.
In Lord Caitanya’s eight verses, which comprise the final message of all spiritual instructions, the first verse gives five effects of the transcendental sound of “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare, Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare” as follows:
Ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam. It wipes the material dust from the mirror of our mind. The mind is like the intermediate connecting medium between the spirit and that material external covering called the body. The soul has no material activity. When covered by māyā, or illusion, the soul remains dormant in a state of suspended animation.
The magnitude of the soul is so great however, that it infuses consciousness on all sides. Through the medium of the mind, the senses act and we ‘know’ things. If this ‘glass’, the mind, is put out of focus by the external nature, we suffer confusion, pain, disease, and death. Yes, death is a state of mind only, as the soul has no death. By the mind we mistakenly think, “Oh, I am dying!” “I am drowning!” “I am giving birth!” “I am sick!” and so forth. When the mind is cleansed by the mahā-mantra, it is forcibly purified. All the material concoctions, which are the cause of our suffering, are forcibly murdered, starved to death. They thrive on material sense pleasures. Flooding the mind with transcendental sound is just like stepping on the pin of a bomb. All those misconceptions of material suffering and enjoyment are shattered, murdered, and the material mind is conquered wholly, leaving no enemies behind. The mind then reflects the spiritual knowledge, quality and energy of the soul itself.
Bhava-mahā-dāvāgni-nirvāpaṇam. The fire of conditional life is thus extinguished. Nirvāṇa, which most people are trying to understand from Buddhist texts, means extinguishing the fire of material existence. This body has been burning from the very beginning of time by the process of digestion. Biologists all declare that the body is a burning organism, giving off heat, water vapour, and carbon dioxide. After seventy or more years, our body is consumed by that smouldering digestive fire and we move into another body, only to burn up that one too. It is like chain-smoking. With the lit end of the cigarette you light up a fresh cigarette, and on and on. By the potency of the transcendental sound, the cause of that fire is extinguished.
Śreyaḥ-kairava-candrikā, vitaraṇaṁ vidyāvadhū-jīvanam. The transcendental sound then spreads the light of benedictions, peaceful suggestions and fearlessness, and no more anxieties invade the mind. When we come out of the womb we approach the world with many deep-rooted fears. Is there safety? Is there happiness? Is there peace? The answer is the basic seed. Oṁ in this case means a big ‘yes’. Oṁ, ‘yes’ – a positive answer. Simply by negating the mind, the questions of the soul are not satisfied; something positive must be given. The mahā-mantra floods the mind with suggestions of the truth.
Ānandāmbudhi-varddhanaṁ, pratipadaṁ pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanam. A full dose – an ocean of blissful nectar – is served to the soul, who has been thirsty since time immemorial.
Sarvātma-snapanaṁ, paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam. This point has a twofold meaning, one external and one internal. Sarvātma means ‘all jīvas’. The holy name bathes all souls with spiritual bliss, knowledge and love. The transcendental sound completely overcomes the soul with His sublime potencies. But ātman has many meanings, as given by Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
Ātman means the Supreme Absolute Truth, the body, the mind, the intelligence, endeavour, conviction, and nature. By uttering the pure sound of the mahā-mantra one invades the very cause of everything that exists. The mind, body, and soul, and even nature itself, can be changed into transcendental nature by once exclaiming “Hare Kṛṣṇa”. Capture the sound waves which are the cause of every item of existence and saturate them with “Hare Kṛṣṇa”. The result will be the total transformation of energy. An āśrama (temple) and all the paraphernalia in it are all divine. The environment in which we live in the āśrama is not the same as the one in which we were born. It is there, it is Goloka, and the more we progress in our sādhana the more He will reveal Himself to us. The mind, body, and soul, and even nature itself, can be changed into transcendental nature by once exclaiming ‘Hare Kṛṣṇa’. Capture the sound waves which are the cause of every item of existence and saturate them with ‘Hare Kṛṣṇa’. The result will be the total transformation of energy.
“Regarding one of the supreme forces in the descent of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, Jayadeva Gosvāmī, jagad-guru, has written a beautiful verse describing this process: “O harināma, You enter my ear and touch my heart, and tears flow from my eyes and fall to the ground making soft clay. My footprints are left for my successors to follow my way.”
It must be noted that if the guru is bogus, then that name will not touch the spiritual spark within the coverings of mind and body. It may sound the same, but it is not, just as milk and whitewash look the same, but they are altogether different.
Now many such artificial gurus are about, and this fact is, as it were, camouflaging the genuine devotees. If someone finds a treasure beneath a tree and marks the tree with his initials and then comes back to find every tree marked with the same initials, he is unable to recall the original tree.
The original sentiments invoked by the name are concentrated, blissful recollections of the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa. These sentiments are in all souls and are five in number: the neutral sentiment, the serving sentiment, the sentiment of friendship, parental sentiment, and the sentiment of intimate love. Kṛṣṇa is called akhila-rasāmṛta-sindhu, the ocean of all transcendental sentiment. In the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says, “ye yathā māṁ prapadyante, tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham – I reciprocate with all the various services rendered within the sphere of these different sentiments, or rasas.”
Kṛṣṇa uses the neutral devotees, who do not take to active engagement in His interest, at His own sweet time and liking. If He wants to play the flute He picks it up and He sets it down when He likes. To His servants, He is the noble master. In this relationship there is more facility to please the master – to bring His food, His favourite clothing – yet there is still some hindrance, since He may tell the servant to be gone, and the servant must obey out of duty.
The friendship rasa has two stages. The first stage is friendship with a feeling of respect and reverence. Arjuna has this type of friendly relationship with Kṛṣṇa. He begs forgiveness from Kṛṣṇa for unknowingly calling Him in jest or for associating with Him without bowing down, and so forth. When the friendship is more developed, the respect and honourable formalities disappear. Jumping on Kṛṣṇa’s shoulders, wrestling and playing as though Kṛṣṇa were their equal, Sudāmā, Śrīdāma, and the other cowherd boys revel in endless sports. Sometimes they even consider Kṛṣṇa their inferior: “Oh, Kṛṣṇa? He is the youngest one of us. He is also the lightest. We can all overcome Him in wrestling, so go lightly with Him.”
Just as sugar cane juice is made more concentrated until it becomes molasses and then crystal, the friendly rasa, with added feelings, develops into parental affection. “Kṛṣṇa is my son,” says Mother Yasodā. “I must always look after His needs and protection. If I don’t see Him for even five minutes I get so scared. I see huge trees falling on Him and horrible demons capturing Him. Oh, there You are! Why do You scare Your mother like that? Always stay in my presence. I can not stand to have You out of sight.” Even punishment of the beloved is seen in this intimate relationship.
As concentrated sugar becomes rock candy, so the parental exchange of rasas condenses into conjugal love in which there is complete dedication to the desires of Kṛṣṇa with no tinge of desire for one’s own pleasure. “I am Yours” – complete unconditional surrender. “If You trample my body underfoot or embrace me fondly for Your pleasure I am happy. If You want to throw me into hell and keep me far from Your company I am prepared to go. If You forget me, I cannot forget You; You are always my beloved.”
By this time His Holiness had become exhausted. After forty years of lecturing previous to the use of microphones, his voice had become very thin. We were only one inch apart, face to face.
Just then the loud gong began to toll in crescendo, reaching four loud blasts and reverberating into silence.
“Go down now. It is time for āratika. Could you
follow my words?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Did you like it?”
“That’s all right. Go down now.”
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